Esther’s Story…Part 1 (Intro and Chapter 1)
A Bible Study by Jack Kelley
(NOTE: Ray C. Stedman’s book “The Queen and I” was a major source of inspiration for this series of articles on the Book of Esther.)
Although my Hebrew name is Hadassah, which comes from our name for the myrtle tree, most people know me by my Persian name, Esther. This is the story of how I rose from an orphaned captive Jewish girl to become Queen of Persia, the most powerful nation of my day. Many “learned” people (Martin Luther was one) have expressed doubt that my story should even be in the Bible because it seems to have such a secular theme. As evidence of this they claim that the Name of God is never mentioned. But as I’ll show you His Name appears five times, although each time it’s hidden in the Hebrew text. In fact “Something Hidden” is a good sub-title for my story because as it unfolds you’ll see that there is much more hidden than just the Name of God. It was all placed here for your learning, as a reward for the diligent student.
Many years before I was born, my parents had been brought to Babylon from Jerusalem with all the other Jews during what’s now called the Babylonian Captivity, a 70 year judgment that began in 586 BC with the destruction of Jerusalem and Solomon’s Temple. My parents died there when I was still a young girl, so my older cousin Mordecai raised me as his own. My story takes place after Cyrus the Persian had conquered Babylon and released my people from our servitude but before Ezra left with a large group of volunteers to begin rebuilding our Temple in Jerusalem and reestablishing our nation.
It was a glorious time of peace in the Persian Kingdom and the air felt fresher, the sky looked bluer and the stars brighter because of it. All of Persia’s enemies had been conquered, including the great Babylon, long thought to be invincible. With no external threat present, King Ahaseurus, also called Xerxes, decided to host a grand celebration honoring the peace. Inviting his governors and other officials from all over the kingdom (it stretched from India to Egypt and encompassed 127 provinces) he threw a bash that lasted a full 180 days and was capped off by a lavish 7-day banquet! On the last great day of the banquet the King was feeling no pain and after extolling the flawless beauty of his Queen, Vashti, he commanded his servants to bring her into the banquet hall so all his princes and nobles could feast their eyes on her and envy his good fortune.
You’d think the Queen would be thrilled to receive all that attention, but to everyone’s amazement, she refused to appear before them. To say the King was beside himself with anger would be a massive understatement. Nobody disobeyed the King of Persia and lived to tell about it! He and his nobles quickly agreed that if she wasn’t punished, all their wives would soon become disobedient. They advised him to banish Queen Vashti from his presence and find a new queen to replace her, and he agreed. That very day he issued the decree deposing Vashti, vowing never to see her again.
In the Hebrew text describing this event the first hidden appearance of God’s name appears. The first letters of the Hebrew words for “all the women will respect” in what is now called verse 20 of chapter 1 form the acrostic acronym YHVH, the initials of God’s Name. There are a total of four such appearances. This one is spoken about the queen. The next will be spoken by the queen (5:4) and like it is made up of first letters. In both cases where the acronym consists of first letters the initial facts of an event are being revealed.
The third one will be spoken about Haman, (5:13) and the fourth by Haman (7:7). These two are made up of the last letters of the Hebrew words in the respective passages, and both times the final stages of events are being described. All four of these acronyms consist of the letters YHVH.
The first and third acronyms are spoken by gentiles and read left to right like all languages west of Jerusalem. The second and fourth are spoken by Israelites and read right to left like all languages east of Jerusalem.
There is also a fifth one (7:5) made up of last letters but in reverse order, and in this one the letters used are EHVH, another form of the Name of God, the one He used at the burning bush and that we translate “I am”. That makes five concealed appearances of God’s name. Five is the number of grace and indeed my story is a beautiful illustration of the Grace of God, concealed in the Old Testament, but revealed in the New.
But back to my story. It wasn’t till later that I discovered Queen Vashti’s reason for disobeying. She had refused the King’s command to parade before all those drunken nobles at the banquet because he had commanded her to appear wearing her crown, and only her crown. No wonder she declined.
After the party ended and the King had sobered up, he remembered how much Vashti had meant to him, and he regretted banishing her. Her absence created a great longing in his heart, and he missed her sorely. But Persian laws cannot be reversed, even by the King, so he was stuck with his decision. His advisers, seeing how sad and lonely he was, suggested combing the Empire for beautiful virgins they could bring to the capital city to be carefully prepared for him. After auditioning them, he could choose his favorite and she could help him forget Vashti. The King agreed, and that’s how I came into his life.
Now’s a good time to stop and introduce something else hidden in my story. In addition to being an actual historical event, the highlights of which are celebrated among Jews even today in the Feast of Purim, my story is also an amazing model of man’s proper relationship with God. It’s like a parable where every character also represents someone else.
To reveal these hidden mysteries, we’ll have the King represent our soul; our mind, will, and emotion. The Queen represents our spirit, our eternal essence. My cousin Mordecai, who we’ll meet soon, represents the Holy Spirit. Haman, an evil adviser to the King who we’ll also meet next time, represents our sin nature, or flesh, under the influence of Satan. The Capital City is our body, and the Kingdom, our world; the surroundings over which we exert influence.
The proper order for spiritual communications has God at the top, and in descending order the Holy Spirit, our spirit, and then our soul. As created beings, we’re designed to operate on the basis of the revealed Word of God, communicated through the Holy Spirit to our spirit and then to our soul, where it’s translated into behavior. When that’s happening we’re at peace.
When our story opened, the King and Queen were on their thrones. There was peace in the Capital City and indeed throughout the Kingdom. This represents man, functioning according to design, ruling over his kingdom within the parameters of God’s revealed Word as communicated through His Spirit.
But in his impaired state, the King reversed the order of communications, allowing the emotions emanating from his soul to govern his behavior. His lust prompted an improper command, and his anger at her disobedience caused him to banish the Queen. He soon regretted it, feeling sad and lonely, but the damage was done. This is what happens when we let our feelings replace the Word of God as the guide for our behavior. The line of communications is broken and we begin to feel sad, and alone. We’ve lost contact with our Counselor. And as we’ll see, once that happens there is no peace, either within us or in our surroundings, because it opens the door for the sin nature, or flesh, to take charge.
Next time the search for a new Queen begins, Haman and Mordecai begin their battle for the King’s ear, and a conspiracy to assassinate the King leads to an even more sinister plot to destroy my people, the Jews. We’ll also see how ruthlessly the flesh battles to maintain authority over the spirit once we permit it. So hang on, we’re just getting started.